Despite the best efforts of a number of agencies and organizations, the PR industry is still a ways from agreeing on metrics that reflect the value of what it does, client-side and agency leaders tell PRWeek.
Last week, Ketchum CEO Rob Flaherty voiced his support for creating industry measurement standards that go beyond impressions or advertising equivalency. Before his June 6 speech at AMEC's Fifth European Summit on Measurement, Flaherty is contending that new measurements must show whether PR efforts reached the right audience with the right message, changed behavior, or produced economic benefit.
"Ketchum's and AMEC's advocacy is that it's not enough to do the most basic measurement of outputs – for example, impressions only or advertising equivalency, in which what you're measuring is what got out there," Flaherty told PRWeek. "There's a better way."
The Coalition for Public Relations Research Standards, which was created by industry stakeholders including the Institute for Public Relations, is inviting feedback on measurement as it works toward a toolkit of consistent, reliable, and comparable PR metrics.
The Institute is also a stakeholder in Measurement Agenda 2020, a set of priorities established during the 2011 Lisbon European Summit that built upon the Barcelona Principles of Measurement. Those principles include the belief that measuring an effect on outcomes, such as shifts in awareness, comprehension, attitude, and behavior, are preferred to measuring outputs, such as media impressions or the number of tweets.
Fleishman-Hillard president and CEO Dave Senay applauds what he says are much-needed advances in the PR industry's approach to measurement. At the very least, he explains, the industry has created a series of definitions and standardizations about the type of measurement it should rally behind.
He notes that the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity removed advertising value equivalents – a much-maligned metric in some circles – as a suggested metric for entries in its PR category this year. Instead, submissions are required to demonstrate evaluation or results in at least two of the following categories: output or awareness, knowledge or consideration, changes in Net Promoter Score, and action and business impact.
Still, Senay acknowledges it will take some time before PR firms and clients embrace the idea of industry-wide standards.
"Many agencies have their own proprietary forms of measurement. There was no standard before, so a lot of agencies had to invest in creating their own," he explains. "The industry will in time realize moving away from proprietary measurement and adopting a standard is in its best interests."
Senay adds that social media platforms such as Facebook have begun working with companies such as Nielsen to develop effective social media measurements. If PR doesn't figure out its approach to social media, the industry may miss the boat, he warns.
"Social media platforms are also looking at how to justify the value of exposure and interaction on their platforms," adds Senay. "As an industry, we need to watch these social platforms and how they decide to measure value. If we don't, we could be swept away with them."
Kelly Groehler, director of communications and public affairs operations at Best Buy, advocates for standardized measurements that tie back to a company's overall key performance indicators.
"Speaking for my own employer, there is less and less tolerance for metrics that aren't meaningful," she says, adding that with so much information to draw from, it has become all too easy to pull numbers that fail to demonstrate the business value of PR.
"We're data-rich but analysis poor," notes Groehler. "We aren't as skilled at taking and interpreting data and placing the best value on our programs, campaigns, and day-to-day reputation management efforts and then connecting them to the KPIs of the business."
Though the Barcelona Principles of Measurement were a good first step, "the problem is that the profession by and large has not adopted a single definition for what we actually do," she continues. "This has created inconsistency in how we measure results."
While those principles are seen as a hard line against traditional metrics such as clip counts, general impressions, and AEVs, others in the industry counter that they are still viable for some programs.
"For most traditional PR programming we conduct, media impressions and reach still reign as king when it comes to performance indicators," says Sara Matheu, director of media development and communications at Hillshire Brands. The company's brands include Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, and Sara Lee.
"However, as programming in the non-traditional PR spaces such as social and influencer programming continues to play a key role in all communications," she adds, "expanding on the different types of measurements is important as we examine the ROI on all of the communication vehicles used in the various programming we do."
Matheu says it is possible to agree on standardized measurements, but "it's just as important to continuously explore more innovative ways to value performance as tools and communication vehicles continue to evolve."
Christopher Penn, VP of marketing technologies at Shift Communications, asserts that "a lot of traditional metrics such as ad value equivalency can still have a place. In cases where there is no monetary outcome – a client who is running for office, for example – you could make some educated guess based on ad equivalency in terms of how much it would have cost you to reach those people otherwise."
A former sales and marketing executive, Penn was hired by Shift in December "specifically for ROI measurement," says Todd Defren, CEO of the firm.
Penn also thinks a standardized set of measurements could work, but it should be broad-based.
"In most cases, there has to be some bottom-line business goal, such as revenue growth or lead generation. Those kinds of business objectives and goals are the ones that are most universal," he says. "But at the end of the day, how an agency arrives at those measurements and what they take into account may differ."